MecE Master's student ties for first in university's Images of Research competition

Congratulations to MecE Master’s student, Dylan Brenneis, who recently tied for first place in the university’s Images of Research, a competition organized by the U of A Libraries in collaboration with FGSR and with the support of Campus Design and Print Solutions. The competition is a chance for all graduate students to develop and share an image that captures the essence of their research. The finalists and winners have their work exhibited in the Cameron Library to foster student engagement and to support grad students in their academic endeavors. Images are judged according to four criteria: originality/creativity; aesthetic appeal of the image; relationship between the image and student’s research; and the clarity of the written description of the student’s work.

Dylan’s image came about fortuitously. “I’d already drawn the pen and ink hand. I just did it one day for fun.”

Entering the competition fit with Dylan’s broader life philosophy to try as many new things as possible. “I saw the email about the image competition and I wanted to enter because I like to try new things and it occurred to me that I could use the pen and ink drawing.”

The hand in the pen and ink drawing and in the photograph that was the image competition winner is a robotic hand that he designed and built during his undergrad co-op work terms at the Bionic Limbs for Improved Natural Control (BLINC) Lab here at the U of A. “Most of my co-op terms during my undergrad were in the BLINC lab and the work for my internship was to design and build the hand,” he says.

Even though Dylan already had the pen and ink portion of his image prepared when he learned about the competition, it still took him some work to create the image that won him the prize. “It took quite a bit of work to get the hand set up holding the pen and make it look like the hand is doing the drawing.”

The written portion of the competition took some work as well. “I had to make it really clear in the written description of the image that the hand did not in fact do the drawing. People have these ideas about what prosthetic limbs can do but they can’t really draw, so I wanted to make that really clear so people don’t get their hopes up when they see my image.”  

The prosthetic hand in Dylan’s image is novel for a couple of reasons. First, it is equipped with sensors that can send information back to the hand’s controls, allowing the hand to adjust itself according to information it’s receiving through its fingertips. The hand also has a camera in its palm, which allows it to predict what will be required of it. “The idea is that as you go to pick up a pen, for example, the hand will see the pen and be ready with the correct grip,” explains Dylan.

The other unique aspect of the hand is that it’s an entirely open source project. Anyone can download the files and build one of their own.

For his Master’s degree Dylan is back in the BLINC lab but this time. “I am working on a gyroscope to control wrist movement in prosthetic arms and hands to keep the wrist level as the height of the arm changes. Right now the wrists in prosthetic arms don’t have that subtlety of movement, so if you raise your arm, your wrist can’t stay level, which makes it difficult to pick things up off a shelf, for example.”

Lucky for us Dylan likes to try new things.

Congratulations again to Brenneis for his first place tie in the U of A’s Images of Research Competition.